LA PORTE, Texas – You know the word Texas is known for many things like being mighty and bold. And that’s the reason a battleship carries its name. For over 100 years that ship has sailed the seas of the world, but today you can see her anytime you want down in Houston and hear her incredible history.
On the banks of the buffalo bayou, along the Houston ship channel, you’ll find a boat that doesn’t transport goods from far away lands but rather tells the story of the brave young men who ventured to those lands for freedom, happiness, and the American dream.
Stephanie Croatt is the curator of the ship that fired the first American shots of World War I and the last remaining U.S. battleship that served in both World War I and World War II.
“In an attempt to attain more influence, I guess, in the world theatre the United States started building more and more battleships, and Texas was one of those ships,” Stephanie told us.
It’s fitting that the ship that helped shape the world can be found in the shadows of the battleground that made Texas what it is. Even more fitting is the fact this ship was brought to Houston on San Jacinto Day 1948, after a long and illustrious career. But it all started in 1912 when the U.S.S Texas was launched and then first commissioned in 1914.
“That was long before computers, long before cad engineering software, so people did all the calculations by hand. Everything, all the rivet construction was extremely time consuming and labor intensive, but they were still able to pump this behemoth out,” Stephanie said.
But it’s not just the sheer size and construction of the over 100-year-old battleship that impresses. We couldn’t wait any longer to get a closer look.
First up, a trek inside the gun turret.
“Each turret that housed the 14-inch guns had two guns, so we’re in the left hand gun room and on the other side there’s a mirror image of this room,” Stephanie said. “So as you can see right here we’ve got the breach of the gun, which is the back where all the ammunition and powder would have been loaded.”
In this tiny room, 4 sailors would help load the half ton projectiles and the 1600 pounds of gunpowder that powered it. Then they would wait.
“The guys in here never knew when that gun was going to fire,” Stephanie said. “All they would do is they would indicate that the gun was ready to fire, and then they’d get the heck out of the way because this gun recoiled around about 40 inches.”
These guns helped allied forces by pounding Omaha Beach in 1944 and Iwo Jima in 1945.
“Texas spent a lot of her time in combat bombarding shorelines and this ship could fire one of these guys about 12 miles,” Stephanie said.
Visitors get a big bang out of seeing Battleship Texas’ big guns but there’s another spot that definitely revs up the RPM’s, the engine room.
“The ship had two engines that powered two propellers,” Stephanie informed us.
Converted from coal to oil fired boilers in 1927, the ship did get few modernizations over its time, but the engines remained the same.
“I always like to tell people, just to give them a since of reference to the technology, these are the same type of engines that were on board the Titanic,” Stephanie said.
While one engine room gives you a cleaned up look of what things were like in the confined workspace, the secondary engine room is a bit more authentic.
“So this is cleaned up,” Stephanie said while showing us the restored section of the ship. “This is repainted. Our gauges are all nice and shiny and everything. The end room on the port side has not been touched since the ship got turned over in 1948.”
While this end of the ship looked pristine, the other side of the ship is a different story.
“So this is what most of the spaces on the ship look like before we get to restore them,” Stephanie said as we peered into the unrestored portion of the ship “It’s a mess, and it takes so much work to get it that clean and make sure all of the right equipment is in the space.”
It doesn’t take long down in the bowels of the ship before you’re ready to see the light of day again.
Walking the deck of Texas and saying a silent thank you to the young American sailors who served on this ship is sort of a culmination of the feelings and thoughts you have after seeing what life was like on this 573-foot-long vessel.
“An artifact like this kind of transcends states, even though she’s named Texas,” Stephanie said. “The technology and the ingenuity that went into building her really applies to the United States as a whole. Her history, the places she’s traveled, and you know of course fought in, there’s a world-wide connection there. She embodies the spirit of Texas.”